King Henry of the United States?
Have you heard of the time the Founders considered asking Prince Henry of Prussia to sail for American and take the throne as King of the United States?
It was a much discussed issue during the Presidency of John Quincy Adams (mostly as an attack on Rufus King).
Long considered to be hearsay, over 100 years after the fact a letter was discovered among the papers of Prince Henry listing his reasons for turning down the offer. Though the letter making the proposition was never found, Henry’s unsent response seems to confirm that the request was made.
A Failing Nation
It was 1786 and the Articles of Confederation was barely holding the United States together.
Shays’ Rebellion had just taken place and the future of the Union looked bleak. Something had to be done.
Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts had just been chosen as the new President of the Confederation Congress.
It was in this situation that Prince Henry of Prussia was offered to chance to sit as King of the United States.
Though the Americans had fought against Hessian mercenaries in the Revolutionary War, Germany consisted then of several separate Kingdoms.
Prussia was one Kingdom that the citizens of the United States had great respect for. This was due in large part to the fact that they were lead by Frederick the Great (yes, that Frederick the Great).
Frederick was viewed as the ideal constitutional monarch, as he was a strong military leader but also pushed through many reforms which gave liberty to his subjects. Additionally, he was no friend of Great Britain, having refused to allow soldiers who were going to aid the Redcoats in the Revolutionary War to pass through his lands.
His younger brother, Henry, was considered the perfect candidate for King of the United States.
Hey, Wanna Be Our King?
Nathaniel Gorham sent a letter offering the position to Henry through Baron von Steuben, another Prussian who was a major asset to the American victory in the war.
Though Steuben had sincere doubts that Henry would accept, the communication was made.
As it turns out, Steuben was right.
In Prince Henry’s unsent letter, he points out that the people of America had just thrown off one King...it seemed like a long shot that they would accept another. (I have also seen unsubstantiated claims that Henry’s offer was revoked before he responded, which might explain why the letter was never mailed.)
The following year, still in need of a solution to their dissolving Union, a convention was held in Philadelphia and the United States Constitution was written.
Vindicating Nathaniel Gorham
Now, before you freak out on Nathaniel Gorham, keep in mind that this ordeal was before the Constitution was written. He was simply looking for a way to solve the nations problems and, remember, this was a time when having a King in charge was totally normal.
Additionally, the only thing exceptional about the President of Congress was that they were expected to sign any official correspondence. As the man holding this position, Gorham would have been the one responsible for sending the letter, even if there was a larger group of men pursuing the idea.
Furthermore, Gorham would attend the Constitutional Convention the following year where he would play an important role as Chairman of the Committee of the Whole before signing the nation’s founding (republican) document.
To learn about other Germans who helped found the United States, try these articles:
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Prince Henry led an extremely interesting life outside of his short stint as the heir apparent to the United States.
‘‘Brother of Frederick the Great’ sheds an interesting light on the life of a major leader in the Western World during the formative years of the United States.
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